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The choice is always ours
by Rev. Howard Ray Carey

More than two thousand years ago a fiery leader of ancient Israel spelled out multiple choices to his people. Then he gave them this challenge: ''Choose you this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.'' (Josh. 24:15)

Joshua's concept of God may not have been as high or as universal as that which Jesus set forth and embodied in His day, nor as comprehensive as we are permitted to embrace today. But he was choosing in accordance with the best he knew. Just as importantly, he was offering his people a freedom of choice which was rare in his time.

Unfortunately such open freedom appears to be all too rare in our day also. The extreme governmental pressures for conformity applied to so many people in so many parts of the world now are appalling. These are demands to conform to the ideology and life style decreed as the only acceptable way of life.

These cruel and inhuman measures seek to throttle the free spirit of man ---- to deprive him of his freedom of choice. But we need to ask: are such repressive systems but the harsh death throes of a slowly dying order? We need to get a complete picture of the world situation. And to do so we must shift our gaze to something more vital than the repressive measures being applied by so many governments and by some religious 'authorities'.

From some points of view, it is amazing and refreshing to see today how many people all around the world are refusing to knuckle under to any and every kind of repressive authority ---- no matter how great the cost. We may be inclined to wince a bit when we see how high the cost of free choice turns out to be in so many places ---- a price often exacted in terms of incarceration, torture, and even death. But if we can see all this in terms of man's invincible spirit ---- victorious, as the Bible puts it, over ''sin and death'' ---- we may be greatly encouraged.

In New Testament times we find the account, recorded in the book of Acts, of how the Sanhedrin (the high court in Jerusalem) decreed that the apostles or friends of Jesus would not be permitted to share the good news of Christ by speaking in His name. The response of those brave souls has been an inspiration to courageous and aspiring souls ever since. In the face of such repression they couched their reply in these unmistakable words: ''As for us, we must obey God rather than men.'' How inspiring is the courage they embodied. Most followers of Christ like to be law-abiding citizens of whatever country they live in, and in most cases they truly are. But when conscience seems to require an act of civil disobedience, we have our charter for such an act in the New Testament.

Most of those disciples eventually paid with their lives for their high choices, and the fearless acts which followed. But all indications are that they did it in a spirit of love, of joy and of victory. Perhaps Paul expressed for all the apostles the true caliber of their dedication when he said:

''Whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse, in order that I found in him... That I may know him and the power of his resurrection... Not that I have already attained this... But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and striving forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded.'' (Phil. 3:7 ff)

Perhaps one reason I have been impelled to quote extensively from this letter which Paul wrote to the church he had founded at Philippi is that this letter was written in prison when Paul was facing possible execution for his brave stand for Christ. Even in such circumstances the choice for him was ever clear. Indeed in that same letter he wrote:

''Even if I am to be poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise, you should be glad and rejoice with me.''

It is great to get a lift from the courageous choices of men of the past, as well as brave souls today. But to bask in the reflection of their glory is not enough. The challenges must be faced directly by us today, both individually and collectively. Choose this day whom you will listen to and whom you will serve. Will we take the way of doubt and fear? Will we yield to the tempting nether voices which whisper:

''Maybe it is not so. Maybe the Christ, Maitreya, is not present in a physical indestructible body. Maybe that is too much to expect. Perhaps we have to settle for less: for the old order of things under which we wanly hope for a better day and for some other form of release from the terror and starvation which stalks our world.''

But we do not have to settle for that fear-inspired scenario. The choice still is ours. Dare we accept the strong assurances which Maitreya gives us and base our thoughts and lives on them? Let us attune ourselves to strong words such as these from Message No. 134:

ëëTry to believe, My friends, that I am here.  Try to accept that your Brother of Old is among you, and take up the challenge I give to you.  Help Me and help your brothers to make known My Presence.  Take the simple step of trust and awaken to your true worth.

"Many await Me in fear, knowing not the cause of their confusion.  My friends, where fear stands, trust may not. Why, then, hold to fear?   My Presence is apparent all around you. Awaken to that fact.  Open your eyes to the changes in your world, in your own heart, in the Light of Joy in your child's eye.

"Know that I am with you in these ways, My friends, and help save the world. Your cries have been heard. Your longings have reached My heart. Your pain is Mine. My Treasure shall I bestow on you.''

What have we to lose but our fears and our chains, binding us to an outmoded past. Of course we may have to put up with the pity of well-meaning friends who fear we have 'gone off our rocker'; perhaps the scorn of the worldly-wise who may proclaim that we are deluded in listening to what they consider such drivel; or the blast of the so-called orthodox who pontificate about the anti-Christ.

But what a small price to pay in comparison to the fiery courage of a St. Paul or the sacrificial love of a Mother Teresa and countless others of our own day. Let us not forget that indeed the choice is always ours. May we joyously choose to be numbered with those who stand up and affirm: as for me and those who march with me under the banner of this New Day, we will serve the Lord in His way of sharing, of justice, of brotherhood, and of love. For we see no other way except that of chaos and destruction. And after all, what is that but anti-God, anti-Christ, and anti-humanity?

This article is a chapter from The Joy of Christ's Coming This book by the late Rev. Howard Ray Carey was published by Share International Foundation in 1988. It is not currently available in hard copy form. Copyright © Share International Foundation.  Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard version unless otherwise indicated. 

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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005